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Types of online attacks

Types of online attacks

Cyber criminals use a variety of techniques to attack their targets.

Malware, short for malicious software, is an umbrella term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile or intrusive software to allow criminals to achieve their objectives, and can be categorised as follows:


Ransomware is a type of malicious program that demands payment after launching a cyber-attack on a computer system. This type of malware has become increasingly popular among criminals and costs organisations millions each year.


A virus is a small piece of code that can replicate itself and spread from one computer to another by attaching itself to another computer file.


Worms are self-replicating and do not require a program to attach themselves to. Worms continually look for vulnerabilities and report back to the worm author when weaknesses are discovered.


Spyware/adware can be installed on your computer when you open attachments, click on links or download infected software.


A Trojan virus is a program that appears to perform one function (for example, virus removal) but actually performs malicious activity when executed.

Attack methods

There are also a number of attack vectors available to cyber criminals that allow them to infect computers with malware or harvest stolen data, such as:

Social engineering 

An exploitation of an individual’s weakness, achieved by making them click malicious links, or by physically gaining access to a computer through deception. Phishing and pharming are examples of social engineering. 


An attempt to acquire users’ information by masquerading as a legitimate entity. 


An attack to redirect a website’s traffic to a different, fake website, where the individual’s information is then compromised.


Opportunistic attacks against specific weaknesses within a system.

Man in the middle (MITM) 

An attack where a middleman impersonates each endpoint and is able to manipulate both victims.

How to protect your business

For more information and guidance on how you can protect your business from online attacks, visit the Get Safe Online website.  

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